32 Sun OT Yr B/2015
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center
“But now once and for all He has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice…” St. Paul says something game-changing in today’s reading from Hebrews: Jesus takes away sin itself by his sacrifice!
We know that Jesus forgives our sinS. Ask any child preparing for first communion and they’ll tell you. ‘Jesus loves me, he forgives my sins.’ We believe it, too – or at least I think we do. Otherwise we’re just faking it when the priest says, ‘May the Lord have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life,’ at every Mass, and we all say, ‘Amen.’
This weekend I’ve been away leading a confirmation retreat for 75 young people. It was the same as the 40 or so other times I’ve led this retreat. The young people see Confession on the schedule and ask, ‘Do we have to go to confession?’’ I invite them to have a conversation about that – and it always becomes clear they know Jesus forgives their sins. That’s not the problem.
What we discover is that they’ve often forgotten how to go to confession: they haven’t been since first communion and don’t want to look stupid in front of the priest. They’re sometimes embarrassed by how long it’s been and are afraid the priest will chastise them. The brave ones admit there are things they’re ashamed to confess and that’s what’s holding them back. Like us, these young people always have their reasons for not wanting to go to confession, but they always know beyond any doubt that Jesus forgives our sins.
We know that Jesus forgives our sins …
...but we don’t seem to realize He takes away sin itself. I think this is the fundamental reason our confessionals are empty. We believe Jesus forgives our sins, but somewhere along the way we’ve thrown up our hands. ‘What is the use of going to confession, when I’ll just find myself there again confessing the same sins.’ So we just don’t go. We give up. We see no point in confession.
That leads to some faulty thinking. For example, ‘Since this thing the Church calls a sin keeps popping up in my life, it must not really be a sin, or at least its clear Confession is no help in dealing with it, so why go?’ Or, ‘I’m not guilty of any really serious sins, so I don’t have to go to confession.’ Here’s the kicker, ‘Since its Jesus who forgives my sins, I don’t really have to confess in the presence of the priest.’
It seems like whenever we talk about why we don’t routinely receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, it becomes a conversation about sins; plural –individual offenses or imperfections. But Confession is not only about sins – it is also about sin itself. We don’t just go to confession to receive forgiveness for our sins – that is important, and it happens, but it’s not the only thing that happens – it’s not the most important thing that happens. When we go to Confession, we express our faith that Jesus takes away sin itself – that He can heal what’s wounded in us that leads to sin. That’s the point St. Paul is trying to get across today – and that is what so many of us are missing out on when week after week we miss the opportunity to encounter the Mercy of Christ in the Confessional.
Before the cross, the only remedy was to ask God for the forgiveness of sins – there was no hope, no possibility that mankind’s sinful nature would ever be overcome. But Jesus changed all of that. Through his sacrifice, we have not only the forgiveness of sins, but also the hope of grace which bit by bit can heal the wound in us that leads us to sin. But if we avoid the Confessional, we miss out on that great hope!
We know Jesus forgives our sins, but we don’t seem to accept that in the Sacrament of Reconciliation He heals what causes us to sin.
I’ve got a simple question today: What have you got to lose?
Maybe you really aren’t guilty of any mortal sin – sin that we’re required to confess before receiving Holy Communion. Let’s be honest – that’s doubtful. But maybe you’re the exception. OK. So maybe you don’t have to go to confession this week or this month. But even if that’s so, why wouldn’t you take even the small ways you’ve missed the mark in the Christian life to Confession to receive back an abundance of grace which is truly medicine that heals whatever is wounded in us?
Maybe you follow the teaching of the Church to the letter, and you go to Confession at least once a year whether you need to or not. (We do remember, don’t we, that to receive Holy Communion at any given time we have to have received the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least once in the past 365 days, right?) So – maybe you’re doing the bare minimum. OK.
At Thanksgiving, I could eat a single slice of cold turkey, drink a glass of water, and be done. That’s really all I have to eat to keep living. Nothing says I have to enjoy the mashed potatoes, dressing, macaroni and cheese casserole, or the cranberry sauce. I for sure don’t have to even take a look at momma’s pumpkin pie. But – tell me – how in the world does the bare minimum make sense when there is such a cornucopia of goodness spread before us?
You’re the only one who knows whether or not you are guilty of serious sins that need to be forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But you see, what I’m trying to say today is: that’s not the only question that is worth asking. I’m saying why wouldn’t you – why don’t we – enter the confessional on a regular basis to pour Jesus’ healing balm on our sinful nature itself? You want to know one of the reasons that Pope Francis radiates the Joy of the Gospel with his every breath? He goes to Confession weekly – that’s why. Just like Pope Benedict and Pope Saint John Paul II before him. Why not follow their example and give Jesus the humility of confessing even our small sins in order to receive the overwhelming gift of His grace that can take away sin itself. What have you got to lose?
Ten minutes once a month. If you had a terminal illness and the absolute certain cure could be yours by visiting the doctor ten minutes once a month, wouldn’t you do it? We do, all, have a terminal illness. “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God…”
Am I preaching hell fire and damnation? No. I’m preaching an invitation. I’m inviting you to meet Jesus in the confessional whether you have to or not. There’s not a single person in this room tonight (including the preacher) who doesn’t have something they could confess. Why not give it a shot? You’ll find something powerful there: Jesus is there. The Jesus who forgives sins and who takes away sinfulness. ‘Lord – I am not worthy to receive you – but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.’